Tuesday, 29 August 2017

TalkSport's odd couple

I see that Joey Barton, currently banned from playing football for betting offences, has been taken on as a pundit/commentator by talkSPORT. Barton is an interesting character. He's got a temper - he's been convicted of assault twice, serving 77 days of a 6 month sentence for a street brawl in Liverpool and being given a four month suspended sentence for a training ground incident while on Manchester City's books. He has also been charged with violent conduct by the FA on three occasions. So he's definitely got a yobbish streak. But he can also be very erudite. And also a bit dim as the rules on betting for football footballers are pellucidly clear - I paraphrase but they basically say it's not allowed on football matches anywhere in the world at any time. And if I know that you'd think most professional footballers should also know it. But honest, sort of, as he didn't use a stooge to place his bets and had an account in his own name. Whatever, I think the length of his ban (13 months) was harsh in all the circumstances, but the FA probably think that, as he's 34 a long ban should mean the end of his controversial playing career.

Did I hear someone say typical scouser? I couldn't possibly agree but it is a fact that Barton comes from Huyton.

Barton is appearing with Alan Brazil on talkSPORT's breakfast show. I sometimes listen to talkSPORT and Brazil in particular is usually worth listening to. However his ratings have been falling and Barton might be the man to spice things up.

I spotted Brazil and Barton in a newspaper ad. The thing I found most striking though was even more politically incorrect than anything Joey Barton has done or said. But as Brazil is male and white I might be able to get away with a remark about a person's appearance. After all, the newspapers give David Cameron plenty of stick for his paunch. So I'll go ahead and say doesn't Alan Brazil look more like a koala bear than you'd ever believe a human being could?

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The power of equality is not yet what it ought to be

Gender equality issues have been in the news lately, what with Google sacking a key employee for what were deemed sexist remarks and the hoo-ha over BBC pay.

The Google saga was interesting because plenty of semi-educated (I count myself as barely educated by the way) pundits seized on James Damore's defenestration to argue that he was either dead right or absolutely wrong to posit that men and women have some fundamental differences which reveal themselves at the extremes of the distributions. In Damore's case he argued that there were more male software engineers because, basically, men are geekier, there are more of them at the bright end of the autism spectrum and these folk prefer working solo with machines rather than with other people. He thought it unfair that Google is trying to redress the gender imbalance by selectively recruiting more women into those roles, a cross that men competing for a job have to bear these days in many occupations. Dominic Lawson* noted that the journal Stanford Medicine reported on an experiment with babies which showed that "males strongly preferred toys with wheels over plush toys, whereas females found plush toys likeable". Now some well reported tests on human babies showing preferences for machinery or people have been shown to be flawed, for loads of reasons. Even babies can pick up things in their environment, especially when the tests weren't properly "blind" because the researcher knew the sex of some of the babies. Except that the Stanford Journal was reporting on experiments on rhesus monkey babies and it seems doubtful that their parents conditioned them to human male-female conventions. There is a fundamental argument that testosterone conditions males and females differently, on an overlapping spectrum. But there are also strong arguments that we must do more to ensure both sexes have a fair crack at whatever whip they fancy. I bend to no one in my view that most women can do anything that most men can and a lot more things besides, though, paraphrasing my hero Roy Harper, I'm all for equality but when it comes to breast feeding I'm afraid I just can't cut it. (A 1970s quote it must be said).

So Damore had to go, probably because Google is sensitive about the well established presence of sexism in Silicon Valley and had to be seen to act. Meanwhile the BBC sexism row was over that most fundamental grievance, different pay for the same work. But is it the same work?

The row has died down now, though it did throw up some uncomfortable comparisons. The top seven earners were all men (Evans, Lineker, Norton, Vine, Humphreys, Edwards and Wright). Some reporters got their knickers in a twist that the top man (Chris Evans) earned about 5 times more than the top woman (Claudia Winkleman). They both do multiple jobs but, without an analysis of broadcast hours and "job weight" (e.g. prime time proportion), that comparison strikes me as meaningless. Evans is also more established. Vanessa Felz, saying that she wouldn't have signed the letter of protest signed by many female BBC staffers, made some very similar points, arguing that hardly any of these folk do exactly the same job. As for John Humphreys being near the top of the list, he is one of the "names" who people specifically watch or listen for. There are other presenter-interviewers on Radio 4 Today's programme, but Humphreys is one of the BBC's stars, people turn on just to listen to him. It's not a surprise in any field of activity if such people get paid more than their peers, whatever their gender.

There were oddities within the male pay list - why is Steve Wright (£500k+) paid twice as much as Ken Bruce (£250k+)? I guess he does a few more hours each week and Wright is credited with pioneering the "zoo format" on radio (well he is on Wikipedia anyway though I'm a bit surprised if no-one had done it previously anywhere else in the world). But over two grand for each of his Radio 2 shows? Kerching!

Part of the pay gap is experience and audience familiarity. Emma Barnett may well get there (though I couldn't see her on the current pay list) and she is, deservedly, getting the big gigs, like the Theresa May one year in office interview, which will make her name, in time. Mind she'll have to train on a bit: I heard her interviewing Alan Sugar recently and it was good stuff until Sugar had a pop at politicians who tell lies. He instanced Nick Clegg and then Jeremy Corbyn. Barnett flew all too readily to Corbyn's defence, making a political point, that Labour's manifesto had been fully costed, unlike the Tories' (she said). The only problems with this are that Labour's promises clearly weren't fully costed as Corbyn and others have admitted since that they didn't know how much writing off student debt would cost. And, even if fully costed, the promises weren't deliverable. This was actually Sugar's point - that when Nick Clegg made his promise about tuition fees, he didn't expect to be in a position to have to deliver on it. Like Corbyn he was writing cheques he thought would never get cashed. The reason I mention all this is that I felt it was a serious flaw in an otherwise entertaining interview. Must do better Emma, if you want to be the John Humphreys of the next decade, or the one after that. After all, I don't think you are pro-Corbyn, not given the way you kebabbed him on air for playing for time while trying to look up the cost of Labour's childcare proposals on his iPad during the General Election campaign. And Barnett is multi-talented, being a proper journalist: digital media and then Women's editor for the Daily Telegraph and now occasional columns for the Sunday Times. And, more prosaically, she is that paper's agony aunt. Seriously!

Anyway, I can reconcile the pay of Humphreys against Barnett, or Mishal Hussein for example. But maybe I'm just sexist and won't admit it. But as Barnett says she doesn't remember ever not being a feminist and is a member of the Women's Equality Party, I'm not sure she would agree. So will she stay with the sexist BBC? Though there were some comparisons which looked right from a gender point of view - politics correspondents Andrew Neil  and Laura Kuenssberg being in the same pay band, for example.

But there were more uncomfortable comparisons, such as BBC2 Newsnight's Evan Davies (£250k+) and Emily Maitlis (not on the list so less than £150k). Davies might get more hours as front man, though whether he should I would suggest is debatable. And then there's Huw Edwards (£550k+) and Sophie Raworth (£150k+). Again Edwards probably fronts the main BBC1 evening news more often than Raworth. They both do some other programmes. Personally I think Sophie Raworth is a far better newsreader than Huw Edwards and I would put her on more often and pay her more. Mind, this may also be sexism on my part, as Raworth is not unattractive. But I think it's more because I find Edwards supercilious, with a notable inability to avoid the raised eyebrow and other facial twitches that go with the sneering tone he adopts when he clearly disapproves of something that has been put in front of him to read.

And we don't know some pay levels as many presenter/celebrities were employed by intermediate companies. So we don't know if Mary Berry earned more, less or the same as Paul Hollywood for Bake Off, for example.

The shame of this media frenzy was that the point about equal pay for equal jobs actually got rather lost in the outrage over the amount of pay some of them get. For what it's worth, I'd bet a few bob that disparities in pay are greater in the public sector than private. Yes there are stories about how sexist it can be in jobs like City traders. And yes the men ask more readily for more pay: nothing new in that but good managements have made sure that this behaviour doesn't disadvantage women for a long time now. I don't personally get too het up about the overall average stats as we all know, even if some won't accept, that more women work part-time and take career breaks. Not that they should be disadvantaged for this, but of course as a result they will have less experience than people of either gender who haven't done so. So I think the overall averages, which naturally still show a discrepancy between average pay for men and women, are a bit misleading. Women have been making better progress to the top jobs for a long time now but proper statistical analysis would allow for the fact that they aren't there yet. Making sure they get the chance to do so should bring the numbers into line over time. Forcing them into line when women aren't yet doing those jobs in equal numbers would be contrary. And actually illegal I would argue. Nevertheless, I have seen statistics showing that there are serious gender differences in many public sector roles, which seems not only entirely wrong but remarkable until you remember how inefficient the public sector can be at doing anything, including getting its own house in order. Oh, there is at least one category of private sector organisation which has shown to be as bad: the trade unions. D'Oh!

Meanwhile inequality in general in the UK is at its lowest level since the 1980s says the Institute of Fiscal Studies**.  Income at the 10th percentile (i.e. those at the top of the poorest 10% of the population) are up 7.7% since 2007-8, while the 50th percentile is up 3.7% and the 90th percentile (i.e. people better off than 90% of the population) has fallen 0.6%. So inequality between the top 10% and the bottom 10% has fallen significantly due, I would guess, to benefits for the least well off being protected by George Osborne (I know this isn't the script people think they've read) and increases in the minimum wage. You definitely wouldn't think it on planet Corbyn-McDonnell, but David Smith tells us why it doesn't feel that way. Firstly, reports from the likes of the IFS don't convince many about things like inequality "to the extent that they think about or understand these things at all". (Smith's condescending, but probably accurate words, not mine). Also the preposterously rich, the top 1% or so, frame the debate by their spending behaviour covered by the media, even though this has little relevance to most of us, provided they pay their taxes. Which they do on spending and the likes of Premiership footballers also do on their income, unlike the BBC presenters discussed above, many of whom get paid through service companies to pay tax at the corporation tax rate rather than income tax rates. However unpalatable their salaries, remember that a player on £200k a week will pay around half that in income taxes alone, paying for the wages of something like 200 nurses. In normal times, when the rising tide floats all boats as they say, everyone feels better off and most folk, like Peter Mandelson back in the day, are intensely relaxed about the people getting filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes. But when real incomes are falling, which they have for the majority (even if not, as we've seen, for the people at the bottom) then falling inequality doesn't interest people. They feel worse off because they are and so they resent people who are much better off than themselves, even if those people are also worse off than they were.

Which brings me to some other human rights and gender equality issues. I remember saying, after the end of apartheid and the fall of communism, that the biggest human rights issue remaining in the world was the treatment of women in Arabic and Muslim countries.  OK, I  overlooked China which has a lot of people and isn't great on human rights, though I would argue is not as systematically sexist or racist as the places I have problems with. As Roy Harper sang, And women in veils walking paces behind/Doesn't sit easy in my kind of mind.

All of this was brought to mind when eating in a local Indian restaurant recently. It suddenly struck me that many Indian restaurants, including our favourite near our last house, have exclusively male waiting staff. On the rare occasions when there have been female waiters they have always been white. In the many Asian themed restaurants I have eaten in I cannot ever remember being served by a female waiter of Asian appearance. To be fair, another local Asian restaurant has a female maitre, who I think is the owner. But that is the only Asian female I can recall. And she wasn't serving. Maybe readers have seen what I haven't and can correct me, but I suspect this illustrates an underlying cultural point  - that there are still big cultural differences that affect gender equality even in our own country.

It may seem strange for me to labour this point when there are much more serious issues such as the grooming of young white women by predominantly Asian men in so many places in our country over so many years. I know this is a touchy subject - and risibly it got a Labour spokesperson sacked, revealing just how out of touch they are from everyday people who seem to care more for the wellbeing of young females than they do - but this has become a touch point for me which will show whether attitudes to women are changing in our Asian communities. I can't really monitor the bigger issues for myself but I'll keep watching for that Asian waitress, though I'm not holding my breath.

Oh I'm sure many of you don't need telling, but The Power of Equality is on the Red Hot Chili Peppers seminal album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which broke them into the big time. Not the album of theirs I have listened to the most over the years (that would be By The Way or Stadium Arcadium) despite it being their most critically acclaimed effort. But I was listening to it the other day and it's belatedly become my favourite. Some of their very best tracks are on it (Under The Bridge, Breaking The Girl and I Could Have Lied in particular), all masterclasses by guitarist John Frusciante. Thanks to Mike for introducing an old dude to them a long time ago - a bit late to the party but fortunately not too late for me to catch Frusciante playing with them live a couple of times. The post title is part of the chorus of the song which, topically, is a polemic against the extreme right and Ku Klux Klan. "People in pain, I do not dig it, change of brain for Mr Bigot" could have been written with Trump in mind, except the song was released in 1991.

*Dominic Lawson's column Let's man up: males make likelier geeks was in the Sunday Times on 13 August.
** The IFS report is called Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2017
***David Smith's column Inequality is down - but people don't notice when wages are falling was in the Sunday Times on 23 July 2017

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Sports Person of the Year?

I struggle with the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY). What has personality got to do with it? Surely people vote for their Sports Person of the Year and not the most engaging British sports person?

Last year, risibly, Chris Froome didn't even make the BBC shortlist of 16 despite winning his third Tour de France, when no other Brit has ever won more than one. Froome does not have a particularly engaging personality, so maybe that does have something to do with it after all. This year he won again even though the organisers did their best to make it hard for him, arranging the competition to try to blunt Froome's strengths. Mind, when you are good in the mountains and good at time trials, that's going to be difficult and make for a rather "flat" tour in more than one way. So Froome's triumph had an air of inevitability about it, once it became clear that the loss of some established names hadn't noticeably weakened Team Sky. But he also upset journalists by refusing to be interviewed on a rest day, saying something like "if it was a media day it would be called a media day, but it's called a rest day". The journos thought this was unbecoming of the yellow jersey holder. I admire Froome's focus and don't understand why some sports mandate interviews, leading to the ridiculous exchanges we see with Premier League managers for example, who have to bite their tongue to avoid saying daft things about the referee, with the inevitable punishments that follow.

On Saturday Froome starts his challenge for the Spanish Vuelta. Only three people have ever won the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year and no-one has done it since the Vuelta moved to its current time slot in 1995. Surely this would make him a shoo-in for SPOTY. Or at least for the shortlist. Maybe!

Adam Peaty's exploits at the swimming World Championships with gold medals and world records are of course notable, totally dominating his events, even if it isn't the fastest way of swimming on your front.

But if you want to have performance and an engaging personality, I would look no further than Moeen Ali. Once derided by Geoff Boycott as a batsman who bowls a bit, not good enough to be England's main spinner and publicly called England's second spinner at the start of the test series against South Africa, Ali was the leading wicket taker on either team with 25 at an average of 15.6, remarkable for a spinner. It was the most wickets in a test series by an England spinner since 1958, despite being only a four test series. He was the first England spinner since the 1930s to take a hat-trick and it was the first ever hat-trick in 100 years of test cricket at The Oval. By this test England were only playing their second spinner, having left out the first. Ali also batted well, having the fourth highest average in the series at 36, only just behind Ben Stokes. His fabulous counter attacking 75 not out off 66 balls in the second innings of the 4th test at Old Trafford, when England were rocking a bit, followed by his 5 wicket haul as England closed the match out, deservedly made him man of the match and the series.

Ali had to learn his spin bowling craft in the cauldron of test cricket: he had only taken just over 100 wickets in county cricket when he first started bowling in tests. With 123 test wickets he already has more from fewer matches than spin bowlers Ray Illingworth and Phil Tuffnell and should pass Phil Edmonds's total in his next test. Ali is 30 and has only been in the test team since 2014, so at this rate he could easily threaten the highest number of test wickets for a spinner, Graeme Swann holding the record with 255. Before that Emburey (147), Titmus (153), Panesar (167), Lock (174) and Laker (193) are all well within his sights, given the number of test matches played these days. But it's not just stats - he has a wonderful temperament, which allowed him to ignore the doubters. He may be known as "the beard that's feared" but is modest: he doesn't particularly welcome attention but will let people take pictures, especially if it's for youngsters. He is a superb role model and fabulous asset to English cricket. Shame he's a Liverpool fan, mind!

I'm not the only person already canvassing Ali for SPOTY. Asked about it recently he squirmed and said "Oh, I don't think so. I'd be too embarrassed to go there. I'm on tour when they hold it? That's perfect."

Froome has the Vuelta coming up and Ali the gets to take on the West Indies. Comparing performances in different sports is a mug's game but I can't see past them as my top 2 sports people of the year, even though it's only August.

Though I'm sure swimming fans would disagree.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Ten Years After

9 August 2007 was the day that Adam Applegarth, then boss of Northern Rock, called "the day the world changed", marking the start of the global financial crisis when the financial markets stopped working.

Of course we all know why it happened, don't we? Those stupid NINJA (No Income, No Job, no Assets) sub-prime mortgages in the USA. Well, not exactly, though they were a big part of the loss of confidence that was the main driver. Why did those idiots think sub-prime loans made sense?

A young banker at Lehman Brothers explained how it worked to his bosses in 2007. Handing money to one person who was constantly in and out of work was obviously risky, but handing it to 100 such people at the same time was much safer. Statistically there was a negligible probability of most of them losing their jobs at the same time, especially if they were spread over the whole country, so bundling them together magically transformed risky loans into a safe portfolio. Investors rushed to snap them up and 25% of the UK mortgage market was soon funded by this financial sleight of hand. Bananas. Except that it did actually turn out that way. Hardly any of the loans subsequently branded "toxic" lost money. Almost every toxic credit instrument turned out fine. 92% of over 81,000 AAA rated structured finance securities issued between 1993 and 2016 repaid investors in full, without missing a single interest payment, according to Moody's. In Europe only one-third of one percent of sub-prime bonds lost money. So what was it all about?

I've often said that the crisis was really mainly a good old-fashioned property bubble. Certainly this was the case in the Republic of Ireland and Spain, both of which had artificially low interest rates for their economies having joined the euro, a situation that friends may remember me calling a fascinating economic experiment. I predicted, at the time, that it would end in some kind of bust for those countries as their economies over-heated due to the step change down in interest rates which would normally produce an inflationary boom and a currency devaluation. In the euro this couldn't happen, so the rebalancing might come about through unemployment as those economies became uncompetitive on price, jobs were lost and debt issues emerged as loans at inflated prices turned into bad debts. The financial crisis short-circuited this process, but I would argue that is basically what happened in countries like Ireland and Spain.

Meanwhile the banks caught more than a cold because the loans couldn't be repaid. Except that ain't what happened either. I'm not sure why BNP Paribas, the French bank that was the harbinger of doom, got into trouble though I read that there had been a run on hedge funds it controlled. But often the trigger incident isn't necessarily the root cause. Sensing fear among global traders the US Fed and ECB started pumping money into the system at unprecedented levels, but the Bank of England ignored pleas to do the same, Mervyn King tutting about "moral hazard". At that stage he felt investors had to suffer if there were problems, to avoid the expectation that risky behaviour would be underwritten by bailouts leading to more risky behaviour. But a month later Northern Rock had to be supported as King didn't want moral hazard to extend to the queues of savers seeking to withdraw their cash. By February 2008 it was nationalised after two failed sale attempts. But the Rock didn't get into trouble because of sub-prime loans either. The bank, which had long been a traditional mutual, had grown rapidly by borrowing in the markets and offering racy mortgage deals - up to 125% mortgages, which I remember puzzling me at the time - how can that be a secured loan? But what sank it was the fact that it relied on international markets for 40% of its funding. My recollection is that many of the bonds that were the source of funding were on 3 year terms when their mortgages were of course on much longer terms. So every year they needed to raise money to cover their existing portfolio and more again to fuel their brisk expansion. When the markets "stopped working" the Rock was essentially insolvent overnight. So their business model proved to be flawed, but not because of the mortgage risk, as proved by the fact that the government made a £10m profit when its loan book was finally sold in 2015.

It can be argued that these loans and sub-prime loans in general turned out fine because governments printed vast amounts of money to prop up the global economy, underpinning asset values. But either way, many sub-prime court cases brought against banks have been settled by the lenders just buying back the bonds at face value, because they just aren't toxic.

Whatever the causes, real or imagined, markets got spooked and the system gummed up, with banks all eyeing each other and trying to second guess whose losses would be biggest. In a Mexican stand-off, they stopped buying, selling and lending to each other. Iain Dey suggests that this problem was exacerbated by the actions of a Scottish banker. No not ex-Sir Fred Goodwin of RBS, the still-Sir David Tweedie. "Who was he?" I hear many of you ask, apart maybe from the Chartered Accountants among you. Tweedie was the head of the International Accounting Standards Board and he oversaw the implementation of "mark-to-market" accounting, where everything on a company's asset book should be valued at the current clearing price. To be fair, Tweedie was reacting to the Enron and WorldCom scandals. But the effect, when no-one will buy or sell, is that assets which clearly have some value have a current market price of zero. Mark-to-market pricing helped turn transitory, paper losses into crystallised pounds and pence. The law of unintended consequences was never writ larger.

This all lead to the scariest moment of the financial crisis, when Lord Darling (then plain Alistair and Chancellor of the Exchequer) was called out of a meeting of European finance ministers in 2008 to take a call from Tom McKillop, the then chairman of RBS, to be told that the bank was haemorrhaging money. RBS was then the world's largest bank and about the size of the whole UK economy. Darling asked how long they could last, expecting an answer in terms of a number of days, but was told "We're going to run out of money in the early afternoon". So an immediate bail out was essential: there really was no alternative. People sometimes complain that "the bankers got bailed out". No, the banks got bailed out, else ordinary people wouldn't have been able to get at their cash. Unthinkable.

When I heard that ATMs might have run dry, remembering the old adage that anarchy is only three missed meals away, I freely admit to spooking my wife by insisting that we stocked up on tinned food, never got short of cash, or let the cars get low on petrol. A couple of years later we had delights such as spam and chips for dinner as my emergency supplies were going out of date. Meanwhile she got heartily fed up of me saying "there'll be a lost decade, kind of like Japan's had". The phrase "lost decade" has been used quite a bit lately, in terms of productivity and real levels of pay in our economy, but I didn't think it needed much of a crystal ball: you can get into debt quite quickly, but it's always drawn out and painful paying it off.

Where does this leave us? With some arguing that the new regulations brought in since the crisis are helping to create another bubble. Banks are much safer, with higher capital reserves, though of course the fact that they have had to build up those reserves rather than lending the money has held back the economy. Complaints from politicians that the banks won't lend have always puzzled me, since they ordained it. But while the system should be more resilient, the performance of the banks has been hit. The average return on equity for bank shareholders has dropped from 25% to 10%, pushing the banks to make riskier loans. "Banks are struggling to make returns, so they are creeping out along the risk curve" Dey quotes a senior financier. This is not dissimilar to before the crisis. There is a quest for yield, hence pushing credit cards, car finance deals etc. Concentrations of risk are also a by-product of the new rules. With banks encouraged to make "safer" types of loan, they are behaving like a herd, with risk accumulating in more specific places.

Indeed, the main reason the taxpayer will lose money on its stake in RBS, unlike Lloyds, is that RBS, being majority owned by the government, has had to get rid of all its most profitable bits and concentrate on less profitable retail banking, condemning it to low returns and a total inability to cover its debt write offs. While Barclays stayed out of the clutches of the state (and don't the Treasury still hate them for it) their business has also been harmed, partly by having to also tone down its investment banking activities and partly because of the damage from the LIBOR rate fixing scandal, when arguably its chief executive Bob Diamond was wrongfully squeezed out after Barclays did what it thought the Bank of England wanted, i.e. report falsely low numbers for the rate it had to pay other banks to borrow money. I still think the underlying cause for the actual Barclays rate being higher was that the other British banks were underwritten by the government, so of course they could borrow money more cheaply. Barclays reported false numbers, the Bank of England was happy and the markets breathed a sigh of relief. It was one of the moments in the crisis when it felt we were moving into safer waters. I'm not necessarily suggesting this was a victimless crime, but the Bank and the Treasury didn't ask any of the obvious questions at the time. I would argue they were complicit and even that it might have worked out for the best, apart from the obvious risk of encouraging false reporting in the future.

You'll have noted that none of the above root causes or triggers had anything whatsoever to do with investment banking. Vince Cable isn't the only one not to have realised this, though perhaps he's the best known. His repetition of the phrase "casino banking" like a vinyl record stuck for years reveals either a deep or wilful misunderstanding of what actually happened in the financial crisis. He's not the only economically illiterate politician by any means but until and unless he changes this tune I won't pay any attention to anything he suggests about what economic policy should be in the future.

Meanwhile some other "experts" are arguing that Northern Rock style 100% mortgages weren't a bad thing and should be reintroduced to avoid a housing market disaster (see the Telegraph article referenced below: Ten years after Northern Rock: bring back 100pc mortgages to fix the housing crisis), while others argue that Britain's consumer debt is out of control. Those who play down the risks offer exactly the same rationale as before the crisis: everything is backed by bricks and mortar. As it was last time. "Maybe they are right, maybe they are not" says Dey.

As I have remarked before, we are kidding ourselves a decade on if we think that things are back to normal. Siren voices say we should spend and borrow more, even though our government debt ratios are still very much worse than before the crisis. Interest rates remain at long term historical lows and have been there for an unprecedented length of time. Quantitative easing has not been wound back and the government is sitting on its purchases expecting it will get its money back (OK, apart from RBS). The next crisis may not be just round the corner, but if it is we will be in much worse shape to react to it.

And while markets here, in the EU and the USA seem to be going well, asset values are still underpinned by government money, with any hint that monetary policy might tighten or quantitative easing be withdrawn causing jitters, though the US has at least started to try to move towards normality. Growth in the EU has finally improved, but only because the ECB got round to quantitative easing quite some time after the UK and USA. Victory can only be declared when life support has been fully withdrawn. "With the best will in the world, winding this down is a phenomenally difficult task. It could take another 5 or 10 years to return to normal" James Nixon, the chief European economist at Oxford Economics was quoted as saying.

And those markets are showing some signs of stress. The dividend cover ratio (company profits divided by payouts to shareholders) is at its lowest for 7 years, points out Ian Cowie. Share Centre, an online stock broker, says that dividends paid out by Britain's biggest 350 companies have exceeded their after-tax profits for 5 consecutive quarters. Not only is that clearly unsustainable, the last time it happened was in 2008.

But I'm not stocking up on Spam. Yet.

PS sorry if you thought this was going to be a music post, Alvin Lee, Love Like A Man and all that! Though the phrase "and more again" recalls the Love song from the famous 1967 album Forever Changes, a year on from their single 7 and 7 is after which this blog is titled.

Ten years on from the crisis, Iain Dey, Sunday Times 6 August 2017
Wikipedia: Nationalisation of Northern Rock
The Telegraph. Ten years after Northern Rock... 6 Aug 2017
The Telegraph. Lord Darling reveals scariest moment of the financial crisis. 9 August 2017
James Nixon was quoted in the Sunday Times on 6 August 2017 by Tommy Stubbington in a piece sub-titled "Europe's economy is flying, prompting plaudits for the president of the ECB. But will it all hold together when he sucks money out of the system"
Ian Cowie's piece "Hold on tight: the road may be getting a little Northern Rocky" was in the Sunday Times on 30 July 2017
and a rehashing of my own amateur analysis from time to time since the introduction of the euro in 1999.